My wife asked me the other evening, while we were driving through the military base at Newcastle, why Jamaica has not had a coup. I explained that the Caribbean has a long and proud tradition of peaceful democratic transfers of political power. Haiti has had more than its fair share of coups, but its history is unique. But, the region does not do insurrection. Grenada’s coups during 1979-83 were an extraoridnary episode. So, unlike many parts of the world, Jamaica is in an unfashionable area, coups attempts are not our thing. But why?
The popular image of Jamaicans as being aggressive and easy to take offence should lend itself to a little bit of government overhtrowing, you’d imagine. But, something about the whole unseating of civilian governments and replacing them with a band of men in camoflague gear is a full turn-off.
It’s not the climate: Africa and Latin America show that heat is often a part of the coup party scene.
It’s not living conditions: Jamaica is not in the bottom half of poverty measures, but many coup-affected countries have been associated with grinding poverty, so we’ve helped ourselves by not downpressing people too much, no matter how often we hear how “Wi a suffa”.
Could it be that we are not really into the kind of struggle where we have to do the bidding of someone in uniform? The army would be overthrown faster than they overthrew. Also, our ‘bad boy’ culture and ‘dons’ taking over areas may be as much insurrection as we can deal with. The army would have to at least be as good as the dons in ‘looking after’ us. Box lunch and new fridge, please…
I joked that the military would stand less chance of success in a place like Jamaica, in the same way the British did when trying to control runaway slaves: the country and its extensive mountain ranges lends themselves to guerrilla tactics and the mountaineous terrain lends itself to hiding so well. Civilians are better placed to keep control of places than the military. Jamaica’s sorry history of electricity provision and brown outs suggests that a military take-over of power stations would be a two-edged sword. Would the army really want to deal with all those JPS customers constantly complaining about the lack of power in their areas? They’d want to give it back quick o’clock.
Could the military take over the airports? Sure, but with Jamaicans, there would still be the usual throng of people going to the airport and wanting to fly to Florida, Atlanta or New York, and they wouldn’t put up with any nonsense that might hamper their shopping trips. Take over the airport by all means but make sure my flights are still going. You’ll see people-power for sure if the military start cancelling–they have that enough with bad weather and mechanical problems. Also, don’t start trying to tell people that they can only travel with one bag. GOd made us with two hand for a reason. Don’t increase the security checks, either; we’re already unhappy about all of the feeling-up taking place: “Frisk but don’t get frisky!”
How about wresting control of the means of commuication? Please! Army man as DJ? Spin it, Colonel Selector! Don’t you dare take off the latest dance hall and reggae tunes and put on any stiff marching music. You mad? And don’t even fool with the call-in programs. It’s a wonder how countries. which have lived under military rule for decades tolerate the dire shows they put out. Lime Tree Lane, set in a barracks? Nah!
But, maybe it’s our love of opportunity that would undo any coup. Once the army took over, they would find all of their places of occupation surrounded by higglers and vendors selling them everything from ‘Coup, no problem’ or ‘Army bway, irie!’ tee shirts to the men who usually clean car windshields surrounding the tanks and armoured cars offering to give them a wash and a shine. You’d see more sellers of guns and bullets, and better quality than the army had already–no delays, officer :-). Of course, the food vendors would be there in a flash. “Come, solja! Buy one soup, nuh?”
The party goers would not be far beheind, I think. ‘Coup Jam’ or ‘Coup Street Dance’ posters would be up in no time and the army men would find themselves more likely to be hemmed in by so many winding and bumping people that they would feel that they had been taken over. Ticket touts would be there in a heartbeat, selling ‘VIP passes’ for ‘front row view’ of the coup, live and direct, as the military tried to spread its presence.
Please don’t start imposing army rule and having all-day curfews. When would people be able to go about their regular business? We’re already accused of being ‘work shy’, so don’t force peope to stay home, save for a lunchtime run to get patties and cocoa bread. What about all the sloping off that needs to happen so that every man and woman could continue with their secret assignations? You want a riot on your hands?
No Jamaican will let the army requisition his vehicle. “Tek my bimmer? An’ scratch it up? Drive it inna mud? No sah! Yu nuh see it juss clean? Yu ha fi kill me fuss!”
The final insult may be that, with the army in charge, camoflague gear would have to be legalised. Jamaicans love fashion and what better way to show your support for the new era of army rule but for everyone to put on fatigues.
Some customs don’t travel well. We don’t do coups.